Territorial Exploration: Waldseemuller’s Universalis Cosmographia (1507)


This work by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller is considered the most expensive map in the world because, as Brotton notes, it is “America’s birth certificate”—a distinction that prompted the Library of Congress to buy it from a German prince for $10 million. It is the first map to recognize the Pacific Ocean and the separate continent of “America,” which Waldseemuller named in honor of the then-still-living Amerigo Vespucci, who identified the Americas as a distinct landmass (Vespucci and Ptolemy appear at the top of the map). The map consists of 12 woodcuts and incorporates many of the latest discoveries by European explorers (you get the sense that the woodcutter was asked at the last minute to make room for the Cape of Good Hope). “This is the moment when the world goes bang, and all these discoveries are made over a short period of time,” Brotton says.

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